The Knowledge and Education Research Unit (KERU) is committed to better understanding the ways in which The New Zealand Curriculum has affected teaching. Despite the best intentions of its designers, the national curriculum is neither national nor able to deliver equity. KERU members are interested in what went wrong and, more importantly, in looking for the best in our progressive educational history and the best ideas about knowledge today to come up with ideas to reform the curriculum.

The aim is quality education for all New Zealanders. The words of Prime Minister Peter Fraser, speaking in 1939, still resonate:

“Every person, whatever his level of academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted, and to the fullest extent of his powers.”

If written today, words about gender, ethnicity, and (dis)ability would be included. But the idea of opportunity for all in Fraser’s famous statement remains this country’s education ideal. The question KERU researchers ask is: So what education can enable all young people to develop their full powers?

KERU is based in the School of Critical Studies and has members from across the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland and an academic from AUT. We are holding our 8th Annual Symposium on Friday 25 May 2018. The symposium, ‘Re-booting New Zealand Education: Connecting our Progressive Past to a Knowledge-Rich Curriculum’ is open to teachers, policy-influencers, policy-makers, researchers – anyone interested in curriculum reform. KERU researchers: Elizabeth Rata, Graham McPhail, Tauwehe Tamati, Alexis Siteine, Megan Lourie, Barbara Ormond, and John Morgan are all former teachers from the secondary, primary, bilingual, and kura kaupapa Māori sectors. Our commitment to curriculum reform is motivated by decades of classroom teaching and informed by years of intensive research.

Although KERU studies about Maths, Music, te reo Māori, English, Geography, History and Engineering, will be referred to in the presentations, the Symposium is first and foremost about knowledge itself. This is because  it is not possible to understand an academic subject without first asking what academic knowledge is.  Why is it different from non-academic knowledge – the knowledge we acquire in our everyday lives? Why does academic knowledge matter? It is difficult knowledge and demands long-term effort and commitment. So why should all young people spend years at school acquiring this complex knowledge? Does it really matter? We say ‘yes’ and the symposium explains why.

Although the presentations are primarily about curriculum knowledge (the ‘What’), we are well aware from our teaching backgrounds in schools as well as at university that the methodologies used to enable students to acquire critical knowledge is also vital. So we will also talk about pedagogy (the ‘How’).  What are the best ways to teach this knowledge so that students understand the ideas and are motivated to want to know more?

One of the claims we make about the failure of the current national curriculum is that it places too much emphasis on outcomes (skills and competencies), without acknowledging that the outcomes need to be developed and proven through ‘what’ is taught. In other words how we teach and the disciplinary skills we teach depends upon what we teach. Connecting the ‘What’ and the ‘How’ requires designing the curriculum to link knowledge and pedagogy.

The presentations are about how to make the link. Tauwehe Tamati will describe how teaching methods using both te reo Māori and English in a combination known as ‘Trans-Acquisition pedagogy’ increase students’ understanding of academic ideas. Elizabeth Rata will focus on how the type of knowledge, which we call academic, is best designed for teaching. Graham McPhail will describe a ‘Future 3’ scenario – a way to use the best methods from this country’s progressive tradition to best engage students of all ages with academic knowledge. Barbara Ormond’s talk about History will show how assessment needs to be considered alongside curriculum design. She will describe the unintended consequences of assessment practices on knowledge. Alexis Siteine and John Morgan will talk about how politics can shape curriculum design in unintended ways with Megan Lourie’s talk exploring just what goes on as policy is developed.

While the Symposium is primarily about ideas to reform The New Zealand Curriculum, it is also a reminder of the importance of educational philosophy and theory to those involved in leading the current education reform. There are many interested parties wanting to be involved in the reform proposals. The KERU Symposium stakes a place for academic research in the process.

See more details of the symposium here.

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